Capture of St. Lucia

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Capture of St. Lucia
Part of the American War of Independence
Vue de Sainte Lucie prise en decembre 1778 par Barrington.jpeg
Date 18–28 December 1778
Location St. Lucia, West Indies
Result British victory
Belligerents
 Great Britain  France
Commanders and leaders
James Grant
William Medows
Comte d'Estaing
Marquis de Bouillé,
Claude Anne Gui de Micoud
Strength
1400 men 4000 regulars
neg amount of militia
Casualties and losses
25 killed and 255 wounded[1] 400 killed,
1,100 wounded

The Capture of St Lucia or the Battle of Morne de la Vierge was a battle fought on the island of St. Lucia in the West Indies during the American War of Independence between 18 and 28 December 1778, between British and French forces. The British landed on St. Lucia and defeated a French landing force that had come to reinforce the garrison. The island then capitulated.

Background[edit]

On 7 September 1778, the French governor of Martinique, the Marquis de Bouille, surprised and captured the British island of Dominica. On 4 November, French Admiral Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector Comte d'Estaing sailed for the West Indies from the port of Boston. On that same day, Commodore William Hotham was dispatched from Sandy Hook, New York, to reinforce the British fleet in the West Indies.

Hotham sailed with "five men of war, a bomb vessel, some frigates, and a large convoy."[2] The convoy Hotham was escorting consisted of 59 transports carrying 5,000 British soldiers under Major General Grant.[3] The French fleet was blown off course by a violent storm, preventing it from arriving in the Caribbean ahead of the British. Admiral Samuel Barrington, the British naval commander stationed on the Leeward Islands, joined the newly arrived Commodore Hotham on 10 December at the island of Barbados. Grant's men were not permitted to disembark and spent the next several days aboard their transports. Barrington and Hotham sailed for the island of St. Lucia on the morning of 12 December.

Invasion[edit]

Upon the British ships' arrival on 13 December, Major General James Grant ordered Brigadier General William Medows to land with a force of 1400 at Grand Cul-de-Sac. This force consisted of the flank companies from several regiments and the 5th Foot. They quickly scaled the heights on the north side of the bay and captured an abandoned gun. Brigadier-General Prescott landed shortly afterwards with the 27th, 35th, 40th, and 49th Regiments of Foot (approx. 2000) and guarded the bay. On December 14, Medows' group took the fort at Morne Fortune and the capital, Castries, while Prescott's force remained in support. A third force of 1600 remained with the fleet under command of Brigadier General Sir H. Calder. The French governor, Claude Anne Guy de Micoud, had evacuated into the jungle without a fight, allowing the British to occupy the Carénage Bay, three miles north of Cul de Sac, without losses. By the evening of 14 December, the French fleet under d'Estaing arrived, forcing Admiral Barrington to move his ships into line of battle and abandon his plan to bring the transports into the bay.[2]

Further information: Naval Battle of St. Lucia

Battle of Vigie[edit]

December 15, 1778. The 12 French ships of Estaing (left) attacking seven English ships of Admiral Barrington (right).

On 18 December 1778, a force of 4,000 French troops was landed near Castries, St. Lucia to attack Medows' force. Medows ordered his smaller British force of 1,400 to occupy a hill located on the neck of the Vigie peninsula. The approach was barely wide enough for thirty men to advance. The French were fairly raw soldiers, with very limited combat experience. They advanced on the British force three times.[4] The British consisted of the flank companies (grenadier and light infantry) of the 4th, 5th, 15th, 27th, 28th, 35th, 40th, 46th, and 55th regiments and the 5th Regiment of Foot.[5] All were veterans of colonial fighting against American troops. After the third French attack, British commander, Brigadier General Medows, who had been wounded and realized that ammunition was low, exclaimed, "Soldiers, as long as you have a bayonet to point against an enemy's breast, defend the colors." A fourth attack did not come. The British had inflicted a stinging defeat on the French, who lost 400 killed and 1100 wounded; British losses were only 25 killed and 255 wounded.

With the defeat of d'Estaing on 18 December and therefore the loss of all hope of reinforcement, the French garrison surrendered on 28 December. The imminent arrival of British reinforcements under John Byron forced the French to reembark their remaining troops during the night of 28–29 December, returning to Martinique by 30 December.[6]

Aftermath[edit]

St. Lucia became a crucial base for the British fleet for the rest of the war in the Lesser Antilles, providing a critical resupply point used in battles such as the crushing defeat of French naval power at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782 at the hands of Admiral Rodney. The British held the island until 3 January 1784, providing a good bargaining chip during negotiations with the French over the fate of other islands seized from Britain during the war in the Caribbean, such as Dominica.

After the battle, the 5th Foot took the white plumes worn by the French soldiers and wore them as battle trophies. Later on, these plumes became the standard part of the uniform for the regiment.

References[edit]

  1. ^ A Historical Memoir of the 35th Regiment, p. 59 cites the flank cos casualties. The Historical Record of the Fifth Regiment of Foot, pp. 50-51 cites the senior commander wounded and casualties for the 5th Regiment.
  2. ^ a b Ekins, Charles. The Naval Battles of Great Britain: From the Accession of the Illustrious House of Hanover to the Throne to the Battle of Navarin. Baldwin and Cradock, 1828; p. 91.
  3. ^ Ekins, p. 93.
  4. ^ Historical Record of the Fifth Regiment of Foot, p. 50.
  5. ^ A Historical Record of the 40th Regiment of Foot
  6. ^ Marly p.319.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Appleton, D Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography. ,
  • Jaques, Tony Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A-E Greenwood 2006 ISBN 978-0-313-33536-5
  • Marley, F. David. Wars of the Americas: A Chronology of Armed Conflict in the New World, 1492 to the Present ABC-CLIO (1998). ISBN 0-87436-837-5